Margaret Thatcher ran this country for 11 years (1979–1990). I was 17 when she came into power and 28 by the time she left. In my childhood governments came and went every few years, swinging between Labour and Conservative. I cannot express the pall over this country during the interminable Thatcher reign. It was like when you were a kid and you knew something had gone terribly wrong, and you had no power to do anything about it, just watch the car crash of it all in slow motion.
I have actually met someone who was part of the 80’s “boom” – he worked in the City and made money. It is perhaps telling that when we watched Slumdog Millionaire together he was visibly shaken and upset – somehow he had managed to make it to mid adulthood without seeing anything remotely disturbing.
I digress. Although the UK never did consumerism quite the same way the US did, my parents were both working class kids who did well at school and my dad did some engineering training, and they both worked in offices. They met, married, and bought a semi detached home. My mum gave up work and had babies and we had new and quite nice furniture. My mum left my dad around ’71 when I was nineish and we left for Scotland and a life of fairly seriously penury. Although my mum worked she didn’t make much money and we often ate rather badly. When I left school jobs were scarce and Thatcher had just come into power. Higher Education was free, and if you were from a sufficiently poor background you got a full grant. I literally went to art school because there was nothing else to do. It was probably one of the least worst things I could have done at the time, although unlike my then boyfriend, who came from a very different background to me, and went off to work for the Guardian, I never had any expectations of getting any work on the back of my degree. Which was probably just as well because although I did hooch up a career out of it, it took a while. I finished art school in the mid 80’s and went back to Scotland, and onto my second government work programme. (The first had the dismal advertising of a badge that declared “Youth Opportunities Programme – It’s Going To Work!”) (it wasn’t, and it didn’t).
Then I did something fairly sensible – a teaching certificate. And I volunteered to teach at the art school for free to get my hours. I got the gig, and was subsequently given more hours and pay, which was awesome. But I knew I wouldn’t get more work there, and there were only four art schools in Scotland, so I left for London where there were and are hundreds of art courses. Only I went via Australia, which I didn’t really have the money for, so when I got back I had to get out of debt, and I made props for a living, mostly for West End theatre.
When Tony Blair got in in ’94 I was part the way through the MA which was to get me started on my teaching career. Like today, amid glee all around, I was non plussed. When Blair got in he literally stepped over the corpse of John Smith, who was a man I had some faith in. While Labour being in power gave me that felt sense of a lift from the grey defeatism of Thatcherism and it’s petering out under Major, I was never a fan of Blair. “Whoever you vote for the government always gets in” was never truer. And today I know people on the left are celebrating, but really celebrating what? The woman was unable to influence policy for years due to her deteriorating brain function, and not only that, her death and probable near “state” funeral might give rise to a surge in love of all things conservative. I don’t want to be too much of a doomy gloomy, but really, the next few weeks will be murder in broadcasting and newsprint – neither of which I have direct contact with, but facebook and twitter had the story immediately, of course, and the hysteria either way won’t die down until well after the funeral. Spin doctor, Jo Moor said that 9/11 was a “Good day to bury bad news” and I think the extraordinary suffering caused by the recent cuts to benefits and the health service and legal representation (goodbye Legal Aid) which would have been the top stories for weeks to come will now be buried by ‘reaction pieces’ to the life, death, and funeral of Margaret Thatcher.